The incident which became known as “the Malmedy Massacre” happened at the Baugnez Crossroads in the Ardennes Forest in Belgium on December 17, 1944, the second day of fighting in the famous Battle of the Bulge, where American troops suffered 81,000 casualties, including 19,000 deaths, in one of the bloodiest battles of World War II. The German army suffered 70,000 casualties with 20,000 dead.
The Battle of the Bulge was the largest combat action in the history of the American military; for 40 days, the men fought in the bitter cold of the worst winter weather in 20 years, not even stopping for Christmas Day. It was during this decisive battle that a number of American soldiers were taken prisoner by Waffen-SS soldiers who were fighting in the battle group named Kampfgrüppe Peiper, which was spearheading the German attack.
The photograph above shows some of the 72 bodies which were recovered after they were left lying in the snow until January 13, 1945, four weeks after they had been killed. The reason given by the US Army QM unit, which eventually retrieved the bodies, was that there was still heavy fighting in the area.
The US Army waited four weeks to collect most of the bodies, after they had been notified by local Belgian citizens. Another 12 bodies were recovered four months later, after all the snow had melted, making a total of 84 victims.
On the day of the incident, Lt. Col. Jochen Peiper’s assignment had been to capture the bridge over the Muese in the Belgian town of Huy, and hold it to the last man until General Dietrich’s 6th Panzer Army could cross over it, then rush across the northern Belgian plain to take the great supply port of Antwerp, which was the main objective of Hitler’s Ardennes Offensive. Hitler had personally picked the route that Peiper was to take, but heavy artillery fire from the 2nd US Infantry Division had forced him to take an alternative route through the tiny village of Malmedy, close to the Baugnez Crossroads.
Peiper’s Battle Group never reached its objective, which was the bridge over the Muese. Many of Peiper’s tanks were destroyed by the Allies, and after Peiper ordered his men to destroy the remaining tanks and vehicles, the survivors escaped by wading and swimming across the river. Peiper’s men were forced to retreat on foot, at a killing pace, on Christmas Eve 1944. Out of the 5,000 men in Peiper’s unit, only 800 survived the Battle of the Bulge. Almost one out of ten of the survivors was indicted as a war criminal by the victorious Allies.
The Baugnez Crossroads was known to the Americans as Five Points because it was the intersection of 5 roads. There is considerable disagreement about what actually happened at Five Points on that Sunday afternoon in 1944 when the blood of American soldiers was spilled in the snow. The victims were members of Battery B of the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion. The function of this lightly-armed technical unit was to locate enemy artillery and then transmit their position to other units.
No two accounts of the tragedy agree, not even on the number that were killed. The official report said 86 were shot and there are 86 names on the Memorial Wall that has been erected at the site, but the Malmedy Massacre trial was based on the murder of the 72 soldiers whose bodies were autopsied after they were recovered on January 13, 1945, buried under two feet of snow.
According to the story that was pieced together by the American survivors, Peiper’s assault unit had destroyed around a dozen American army spotter planes that day and had captured a group of American soldiers, who had been forced to ride along as Peiper’s men continued down the road on their tanks. At the crossroads, the German tanks caught up with the American soldiers of Battery B, 285th Battalion which had just left the village of Malmedy and were traveling the same road, bound for the same destination. A US Military Policeman, Homer Ford, was directing traffic as a column of artillery vehicles, led by Lt. Virgil Lary, passed through the intersection, headed for the nearby village of St. Vith.
A five-minute battle ensued in which approximately 50 Americans were killed. Some of the Americans tried to escape by hiding in the Cafe Bodarwé at the crossroads, but Peiper’s SS soldiers set the cafe on fire and then heartlessly gunned down those who tried to run out of the building. Survivors of the massacre said that the SS soldiers then assembled those who had surrendered after the battle in a field beside the Cafe. Madame Adele Bodarwé, the owner of the Cafe, was killed during the action, most likely by the Germans. Her body was never found, but her death was confirmed later by her husband, who was serving in the German Army at the time.
The following information, given to Charles Corbin when he interviewed Henri Rogister, a Belgian historian who researched the Battle of the Bulge, is from the web site of the Third Armored Spearhead Divison:
Quote from Henri Rogister in his interview with Charles Corbin:
Some testimony explain that American soldiers take refuge in the Café Bodarwé, and Americans tell The Germans killed them in there. I think no because The Germans burned the barn and the Café Bodarwé at the same time. For me there is no American soldiers killed in the barn and the Café, because I speak with Mr. Bodarwé and after the investigation in 1945 there was only a small part of a body found, maybe it was Mrs. Bodarwé. There is a German soldier named Kurt Briesemeister a tank commander who have a testimony where he tell it is a German who kill a woman at the Baugnez crossroads. Henri Lejoly who was living in Baugnez at this time, assisted with the Massacre, he have a story where he also thinks the Germans killed Madam Bodarwé.
According to Charles Whiting in his book entitled The Traveler’s Guide to The Battle for the German Frontier, “The Americans huddled in a field to the right of the pub, some of them with their hands on their helmets in token of surrender; others smoking and simply watching the SS armor pull away, leaving their POWs virtually unguarded.”
Peiper’s tank unit continued down the road, after leaving behind a few SS men to guard the prisoners. Legend has it that Lt. Col. Peiper, who had an excellent command of the English language, passed the scene and called out to the American prisoners, “It’s a long way to Tipperary.”
According to Whiting’s book, Peiper had heard that an American General was in the next village and he was on his way to capture him. General Dwight D. Eisenhower mentioned in his autobiography, “Crusade in Europe,” that there was some concern among the American generals about being captured, although he didn’t mention Peiper by name.